Changes to the education law in Romania that came into force in early 2011 referred for the first time to the 0-3 age group. The needs of these children were previously treated by the law as purely medical, with crèches staffed by nurses rather than trained educators. Another change in the law has seen the preparatory year, grade 0, made mandatory, which should facilitate children’s integration into school. This extra year may be taught at kindergarten or primary school.
Crèches for the under-threes have been closing, due to the cost of attending them and many parents’ lack of knowledge about the importance of early education. For both crèche (0-3) and preschool (3-6), attendance is particularly low among disadvantaged groups, such as rural and Roma communities. For more vulnerable children, the potential benefit of attending crèche is even greater.
And while lack of time in crèche is hampering the development of some infants, the opposite is also a problem: facilities where children stay overnight from Monday to Friday, though fewer now than in the past, are still in operation.
The willingness of parents to use such institutions ties in with lack of awareness of best child-rearing practice among some parents. Recent UNICEF research found that a quarter of parents lack the knowledge to assess their child’s psychological development. Another issue flagged up by this research is fathers’ lack of involvement with their children, in particular the 0-3 group.
UNICEF is also advocating for children with disabilities or special needs to be schooled within the mainstream system. While the Ministry of Education previously made efforts in this direction, schools were not well equipped to meet the practical and education needs of such pupils, and we are working to help remedy this.